People have given me a hard time for being a weather watcher. I often say it was inherited from my mom, who we sometimes called “Helen Weather”. I think we came by it after living through the Charles City, Iowa tornado.
May 15, 1968.
I was only ten but I can remember much of that day like it was yesterday! I was in the Fourth grade at Central Elementary in Charles City. It had been a very hot and humid day, especially for so early in the year. After school, I walked to our church, First United Methodist Church, for choir practice. The skies changed and some very heavy rain moved in. I remember waiting for my mom to come pick me up from practice, watching it rain hard and seeing most everyone else leave. I finally called her and asked her if she was going to come pick me up. She asked me where I was. Two hours after school and ten years old-I thought she probably should know!
She came after what seemed forever, which really wasn’t. I climbed into our station wagon and we went home. We pulled into the driveway and walked in and at the same time, Bart of Bart’s Clubhouse-a popular children’s show that was on our local channel-was announcing a tornado heading towards Charles City. He said to take cover immediately. We all went to the basement, huddling under the stairway located in the back of the house. We had one extra person, as my mom was a den leader for boy scouts and one of the boys was still at our house. (I can’t imagine how worried his mom was!)
I remember being scared. Terrified. I remember holding someone’s hand. Maybe mom’s. It seems as we waited, time stood still. It was loud and pouring and then it was silent and the lights went out. I knew that meant bad things. I knew it was time. My stepfather was a camper dealer and my brother watched as the flew against the church next door.
Suddenly it was over. The front of our house was in the basement. I was glad the back hadn’t fallen in too since that is where we were. The whole right side had been torn off. My stepfather told us to sit because he had to go shut the gas off before we could try to get out. Finally, we made our way to one of the small windows on the left side of the basement. Some neighbors helped us out. Our house happened to be the last one that was damaged. It was not original to the foundation, so maybe that had something to do with it. It didn’t matter, it was destroyed. We were basically homeless like so many others that night.
Luckily my aunt lived a couple blocks away. A couple of the younger ones had to be carried because they had no shoes on. We were told to be careful as there were wires hanging down and we had to make sure we didn’t touch them. My aunt was surprised to see us, thinking we were coming down to check on them. Her household of six suddenly increased to sixteen for awhile. I know that night it stormed again and many of us kids were terrified that another tornado would hit again. I got to go to Girl Scout camp that summer free because we lost our house and I remember having a tornado warning during it. We had to go down into a ravine. I am not sure IF a tornado hit just how safe that would be. There were a lot of frightened girls that day!
After the tornado, our town was a mess. We had only the clothes on our back-I had on a gold sweater and blue pleated skirt! There was no, or limited phone access. People were not allowed in or out. Thirteen people had lost their lives that day. Houses, businesses, trees were gone. The school year was cut short that year. I sat at the end of my aunt’s block the day the demolished our house and watched. Where our house once was, would soon be a parking lot for the church next door that was still standing.
We found a house to rent right across the street from my aunts. I bet she was glad to get her house back to normal! The house we rented was too small, really for a family of ten, but it was a place to live for awhile. We moved about a year later, or I think it was that long. It was to a house across town, so no more running across the street to hang with my cousins! But, it was a bigger house that had much more room for us.
To this day, I am a weather watcher. I admit it! After experiencing the Charles City tornado, and seeing first hand what can happen, I don’t think it is a surprise that I am!